Detroit’s Kenny Olson shot to fame alongside Kid Rock as the lead guitarist in Rock’s genre bending Twisted Brown Trucker Band. Over the course of eleven years and four albums Kenny and Kid Rock helped to redefine the relationship between rock, country, and rap as they juxtaposed classic sounds with the ballsy and brazen modernist attitudes of hip hop.
The resulting sound shot Kenny to superstardom as the band headlined arenas and sold millions of records (literally, Devil Without A Cause went 11xPlatinum). In 2005 Kenny parted ways with the Twisted Brown Trucker band and began work on a variety of projects including a Jimi Hendrix tribute album that saw the guitarist covering “Little Wing” with disco queen Chaka Kahn.
Fast forward to 2012 and Kenny is ready to step out on his own, as he takes the lead on his new project The Kenny Olson Cartel. We start our exclusive interview by getting the low down on his new album.
First things first, you’ve worked on a lot of projects over the years, with so many great artists - what made you decide now was the right time to step out on your own and put the Kenny Olson name on the marquee?
I felt the need to help carry the torch in some way - keep rock ‘n’ roll going. Collaborating and exploring with so many brilliant artists through the years made me realize I needed to do something on my own and it evolved into an album with some of the people I’ve worked with over the years.
Where did the songs on the Kenny Olson Cartel come from, have you been storing them away and waiting for the right moment or did inspiration suddenly hit you?
Both. I’ve got quite a few albums worth of music stored, and since I’m always writing, inspiration has been a factor too. I’m always in and out of the studio making music with close friends who share my vision.
Your career has seen you working with artists as diverse as Sheryl Crow and Run-DMC, but when you’re left to you own devices and you’re free to jam what kind of styles do you experiment with? And are they the sounds we hear on Kenny Olson Cartel?
Sure they are. I don’t think about these things ahead of time. I do whatever feels right at the moment, using the fine ingredients that have poured into me over the years. When I pick up a guitar, I riff around and when I land on something with soul and substance, it grows from there. It’s all about my mood. It’s organic for me. Then I take it to the talent around me and we create something. I don’t think about the many styles I can go with. I just go. This album’s got the variety, but it’s all rock ‘n’ roll.
You were joined by a whole host of guest contributors on your new album, how did that affect the writing and recording process, were you in control the whole time or was it more of a fluid process where everyone left their mark?
Both. It’s really important to me that everyone I work with leaves a mark. I always choose musicians who can bring their own talent and vibe to a particular track. And I share life with the amazing talent on this album.
Billy Cox is a perfect example of that. He’s as close to family as it gets, and we’ve been working together on each other’s albums for well over a decade and he was kind enough to leave his mark on my album. And sure I’m in control. It’s my vision but everyone brings something. The result is a bunch of bad-ass songs that need to get out.
Okay so we’ve discussed how the album was made, but for someone who is sitting on the fence, why should they grab themselves a copy of Kenny Olson Cartel?
Because it’s not boring! And it’s got a lot of old-school elements, some soul power and it rocks!
Most of our readers will recognize you from your time in The Twister Brown Trucker Band and Kid Rock. As a group you were famous for blending rock, hip hop, country, and working with samples.
Tell us about that creative process how did you go about genre splicing, did it come naturally or was it a constant battle?
It’s natural for me. I thrive on that stuff. It keeps me going. I tap right into it. If I didn’t, I’d be bored.
Of course you left Kid Rock in 2005, how do you feel looking back now at your time with the band and your decision to leave?
When I look back on it, I have to say “WOW,” right through the release of the live album in late 2005. I can’t believe I accomplished all that with the band. I’ll always cherish those times and miss those guys, but I had to do what I had to do, and it hasn’t been easy. I’m on a mission to bring back some real shit and that’s all there is to it.
It may seem like an odd question to ask as you’re still very much in the prime of your career, but you’ve worked on more projects and with more fantastic artists than most guitarists could ever dream of.
What do you look back on as your proudest moment and whom did you have the most fun working with?
Man, I’ve had so many proud moments where “dreams come true” and I’m so blessed for those opportunities. With Woodstock, Superbowl, world-famous TV shows, multi-platinum records, Grammys and a Simpson character under my belt, I’ll go with the day my son was born.
We always like to ask which artist and bands influenced you to pick up the electric guitar in the first place and who is inspiring you today?
As a young child, I ran around the house playing air guitar to Jimi Hendrix and classic rock songs. By the age of 11, I was drenched in old classic blues and rock music and had been growing up in Detroit Rock City, with the Motown sound, funk, more classic rock, blues and eerie swampy twang thrown in. I was even emulating R&B divas and Miles Davis on my guitar.
I had no choice but to go buy an electric guitar. I had to express myself…feel it through that instrument.
Over in the UK and Europe music magazines and websites are incredibly pessimistic. After another year of declining sales of guitar music, everyone seems ready to proclaim the death of rock.
Not on my watch. “Rock ‘n’ Roll” is slang for sex, which we all know has been around a long time and life can’t exist without it.
As a great guitarist in your own right, and as a former member of one of the most successful acts of the last fifteen years how do you respond when you hear commentators talking that way?
It’s frustrating that the music industry has gone through what it’s gone through, but if I listened only to the negativity, I’d have given up a long time ago. I’ll still be rockin’ in my rocking chair alongside plenty of others, young and old!
Are you planning to take the Kenny Olson Cartel out on the road in 2012?
Yes, we certainly are. Can’t wait to get out there. The main contributors on the album, vocally and instrumentally, will be on the road with me.
Finally, we like to ask everyone this: What’s your favourite bit of musical gear in your collection and what’s the latest addition you’ve made?
Although I’ve been blessed with many great guitars, the one with the most mojo is my 1964 Fender Stratocaster that I acquired very early on and has been with me throughout my career.
I bought my newest piece of gear yesterday, a new 9-volt battery for my Wallace Supa D stamp box.
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